Sports people ‘must have say on Meadowbank future’

Green Party MSP and coach Alison Johnstone at the track. Picture: Julie Bull
Green Party MSP and coach Alison Johnstone at the track. Picture: Julie Bull
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CITY chiefs have been urged to include some of Edinburgh’s top sports coaches in a ­working party assembled to take a ­decision on the future of ­Meadowbank Stadium.

A cross-party group made up entirely of councillors and city officials will meet for the first time today to discuss the ­ageing venue.

A questionnaire was ­circulated to sporting groups using Meadowbank in recent days to get their general views on what the stadium is lacking.

But Edinburgh Athletics Club head coach Bill Walker, who trained Scottish sprint ­legend Allan Wells, said he feared the survey was no more than a token gesture.

He said: “It’s a bit concerning that this working party is going up and they’re not ­coming to the clubs first. They should have had a meeting with all the people interested in each sport. Edinburgh is so far behind in sport now compared to Glasgow. Even Aberdeen’s miles ahead now.” Plans unveiled eight years ago to sell off the entire Meadowbank site and build a new stadium in Sighthill were roundly condemned by sporting groups.

Lothian Greens MSP ­Alison Johnstone – a qualified UK ­athletics coach and former ­runner – said authorities needed to make sure the consultation was far more ­thorough this time round.

She said: “It’s really ­important that the options that go forward come from those who use the facility the most, from the experts and the people in the know.

“By the experts I mean the coaches who are on the ground, the volunteers that are delivering the sessions to our young people and to older groups that are there to get fit and for ­routine mobility.

“It’s at least heartening to see that the council is ­undertaking consultation now before the appraisal stage.”

Ms Johnstone also said a site visit on a Monday evening when it was “bursting at the seams” was crucial. “We need a nice national-level stadium that’s fantastic for all our ­grassroots activity that is the bedrock of elite sport, but that’s also capable of hosting decent events that will attract ­international sports people too,” she said.

Olympic sprinter Lynsey Sharp has been among critics to label Meadowbank’s facilities as tired and inadequate.

Today’s meeting comes with the council having hired The Sports Consultancy, Deloitte Real Estate and Edinburgh-based architects Reiach and Hall to draft a blueprint for the stadium’s proposed overhaul.

City sport convener Councillor Richard Lewis said representatives from sports groups would be added to the working party over coming weeks.

He said: “There was a feeling rightly or wrongly last time – it was before my time as councillor – that the consultative part of the whole process could have been better. I’m very keen to make sure that all the various stakeholders are involved.”

Who’s in . . and who might yet be

AS many as a dozen city council members will get the ball rolling on Meadowbank Stadium’s future today.

City sport convener Councillor Richard Lewis will chair the working party alongside deputy Norma Austin Hart, above.

Opposition parties outside of the administration will also be part of the group, with Cllr Chas Booth, right, to represent the Greens.

The group is yet to include any sporting coaches or recreation bodies such as Edinburgh Leisure.

Top athletics coach Bill Walker, below, and Maggie Bisset, head coach at Meadowbank Gymnastics Club, have both been tipped to join the debate. Mr Walker works with athletes six days a week at Meadowbank, having coached athletics for more than 40 years. Ms Bisset, below, has similarly led Scotland’s longest-running gymnastics club since it was founded four decades ago.

Cllr Lewis, below, said: “So it just doesn’t remain a political body, we need to get all stakeholders involved in the process. I hasten to add it’s a working group – it’s not a political committee. It’s very much about consulting.

“As I said at the beginning of the process with Meadowbank, we start with a blank sheet of paper. We don’t come with any baggage or preconceptions.”